Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Tarantula Hawk

"The male tarantula hawk does not hunt; instead, it feeds off the flowers of milkweeds, western soapberry trees, or mesquite trees" –Wikipedia


"I swear to God if he wins I'm moving to Canada."

"Right there with you sister."

I toss back the last of my drink and swerve away from the two women I've been only partially listening to and head for the kitchen. I yank open the fridge and take out the pitcher of the horrifying blue concoction which isn't destroying my brain cells nearly as fast as I'd like it to be. It’s really my own fault for not bringing a flask.

"We running low on Blue State Special?" Michele, the hostess, pops her head from behind the refrigerator door. She’s wearing a sweatshirt printed with a picture of a cat dressed as Uncle Sam. I finish filling my Mason jar then hold up the pitcher for her to see. It’s nearly empty. She grimaces and gingerly takes it with both hands. "Well that won’t do. I'll fetch Cary, he's designated drink mixer tonight." I stagger off before she can scold me for still having my shoes on. I know it's against the house rules but I really can't stand to remove my shoes in public.

Probably a good idea to hit the snack table. It’s pot luck. I brought a bag of pickle-flavored chips which last I checked no one had touched. A collective groan rises from the living room as yet another state topples.

I head in to see what the commotion is. Two television commentators stand to either side of a three-dimensional projected image of the country. One by one the states turn either red or blue. Mostly red. The bland droning voices give way to the rapid-fire delivery of reporters at various campaign headquarters where both factions are preparing to celebrate. Commercials interrupt the live broadcast with increasing regularity, mostly for cars, or car insurance, with some fast food ads sprinkled in. Which reminds me: snack table.

A woman in horn-rimmed glasses and a shapeless blouse over black yoga pants screams and gives me a big hug. I search my memory for a name but if it's there it's buried deep.

"How are you?” she asks. “Looks like it's going to be a close one, right? I can't believe it, I didn't think that maniac had a chance but..." another moan from the other room. "Oh my God, is that New Jersey? That can't be New Jersey. It is New Jersey. I have to watch this."

Michele has suddenly materialized beside me again. “I'm so glad you came,” she coos. “We haven't seen you since the campaign party! How've you been?” 

“I’ve been better,” I tell her now. “You know. Like all of us, a little closer to the blessed release of death each day." 

 "You crack me up," she laughs.
 
God, the campaign party. I'd almost forgotten, even though it was just a few months prior. In this very living room with those two campaign reps grinning like missionaries, smiling like recruiters for a cult, sitting us all down with drinks to convince us that it wasn't enough that we just vote, we needed to contribute to the cause monetarily. "Personally the whole thing makes me sick," the woman had said. I kept stealing glances at her legs. "But this is how the system works. Without help from our supporters, we don't stand a chance. All that advertising adds up."

At this point Michele had leaned over and whispered, "Don't worry, I got you covered." I wanted to tell her not to bother but looking at her face, so shiny and hopeful, I decided to keep my mouth shut.
 
There’s a commotion as a man in a wheelchair rolls into the room. I wonder how he got in, I don’t remember there being any ramps leading up to either porch. Behind him is his wife, leading their twin blonde toddlers by the hand. Michele screeches and runs to greet them. She lifts a large glass bowl full of seven layer salad off the man’s lap and puts it on the snack table.

"I know it's past their bedtime," the woman explains, helping the twins take off their shoes, "but Daddy insisted that they get to experience their first election night!" Both children start to scream.

Right, snacks, that’s what I was doing. I weave through the crowd to the table which is crammed full of bowls of bean dip and quinoa salad and plate upon plate of thawed appetizers. A stocky black man with thick glasses stands there munching taquitos. I hadn’t noticed just how white this crowd was before I saw him. I nod and he nods back and I scoop up a handful of tiny quiches and try to think of something to say.

“Try these little taco thingies,” he says. "They're outrageous." I take one and nod again.

“Mmhmmffm,” I say. It does not taste outrageous. I take another.

“Good, huh?” he says. “What are those there, quiches?”

“Excuse me but I really need to take a leak,” I say, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. I head to the bathroom behind the kitchen but I hear the twins screaming on the other side of the door and their mother trying to reason with them. I seem to remember that there’s another bathroom on the second floor, so gripping the banister hard to steady myself, I lurch up the stairs.

The cacophony of voices becomes muffled as I stagger down the hallway. I put my ear against one of the doors, then push it open; there's a queen-sized bed and right in the middle of it sits an enormous gray cat. I approach it and it stares at me up at me with beautiful green eyes. The moment I reach toward it to scratch its head the animal darts off the bed and out the bedroom door. I vaguely remember Michele saying something about wanting to keep the cat locked in the bedroom during the party. The whole house shakes as another pivotal state is claimed for the opposing side.

I head back into the hall, closing the bedroom door quietly behind me. I think the next door is the bathroom. It's closed but I don't hear anything behind it. I knock; nothing. I knock again, then turn the knob and open the door.

"What the fuck!" a woman’s voice barks.
"Sorry sorry sorry," I say, and duck out.

"Wait," she says. I cautiously step back in. A woman in a Jello Biafra t-shirt with the sleeves cut off is sitting on the fuzzy closed lid of the toilet. She stands up and slides her phone into the pocket of her jeans. “I know you. The block party last June.”

A spider web tattoo covers her naked shoulder. Her face is severe but lovely, with laugh lines fanning out from the corner of her eyes. I do remember her from the block party but I have no idea what the hell her name is.

She smiles. "It’s okay, I don’t remember your name either. You don't have any pot, do you?"

*

Ten minutes later we're out on the back patio, each with a fresh jar of neon-blue booze. She blows smoke out over the hanging heads of the dead sunflowers. The cat stares out at us through the storm door. I see the cat through the storm door.

"They still can't explain building 7," she says, handing me back the joint. I wave it away, take a long gulp of sweet blue liquid instead. She takes another drag.

"You need to see this website. I mean, these guys aren't some kind of nut jobs, they're actual scientists, and, you know, architects and shit, and they all say the same thing. Which is that it defies the laws of physics."

"Wow," I say. Her eyes stare wildly in the light of the colored lanterns strung up around the eaves, in between the Tibetan prayer flags. I can just make out the chicken coop from here.

There’s another loud groan from inside.

"Listen to them in there. Fucking hypocrites,” she says. “This is exactly what they asked for. They made this all possible by turning a blind eye to the truth that was right in front of us all these years. They totally deserve whichever clown wins this pointless fucking dog and pony show."

"Yeah but what about..." It's chilly out, and the lanterns are just bright enough that I can see her nipples straining against the fabric of her shirt. My mind is scrambled, I'm feeling slightly spinny and I have not even the slightest hint of what might sound funny or impressive or even just non-idiotic to her, it's taking all my willpower not to just lunge at her and take her in my arms. 


The storm door bangs open. The cat dashes out, nearly tripping Cary as he stomps outside. "Goddammit, you’re not supposed to be out here,” he says, we’re not sure to the cat or to us. “You guys're missing the bloodbath in there." He lights a cigarette and plops down on the stoop. The woman -I realize I still don't know her name- starts to cough. "Oh, sorry," says Cary, and hops to his feet. She shakes her head and waves that it's okay but he's already disappeared into the darkness of the garden.

I hear a knocking sound and look up to see an enormous moth batting itself against one of the plastic lanterns. "Look," I say, but she's already looking. It's gorgeous, with two huge spots on its lower wings that look like owl eyes.

"You never see them this late in the year," she says. Just then the cat, which has stealthily crept onto the banister, leaps into the air and lands with a thump on the porch. The moth flutters in its paws as the cat starts to tear at its furry body with its jaws.

"Get away from that! Go! Go! You little fucker!" she screams. The cat scampers off but it's too late, the insect flops pathetically on the porch. “Fucking savage,” she says. “I don’t know why we keep these things as pets. So fucking cruel.” I look around and see the recycling bin overflowing with paper. I take out a Trader Joe's newsletter and with one whack smash the poor dying creature as hard as I can.

Cary runs over to see what the yelling is about. The door bangs as my companion disappears into the house. I point at the moth with the rolled up newsletter and say, "The cat," but just then everyone starts to scream at the tops of their lungs.

We run inside to find that it's over, the great hope for the future has just conceded, pledging to support their adversary in whatever way possible so that together we can continue to make this country of ours the greatest in the...

The room is filled with lamentations and curses. A plump lesbian couple hold each other and sob. The twin toddlers are the only ones who are quiet.

“We were robbed. They need to do a recount. Ever since they rearranged the voting districts, they”

“I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe the stupidity of”

“All that negative advertising and mudslinging, distracts from the issues and”

“At least we went blue... we did our part…”

“Yes but only because of the metropolitan area... you know the rest of the state is full of ignorant”

"How can people be so"

The television is showing clips from campaign headquarters across the nation. Champagne bottle pop, rock music blasts, people cheer. I look around the room, at all the angry, stricken faces, and I start to laugh.

The whole room gets quiet and I laugh harder and louder, then stop.

“Don’t you see…” I start to say. All eyes are on me. "I mean, don't you all realize..." I don’t say anything else. It was all so clear a moment ago but now I can't seem to find the words.

Everyone goes back to talking. A woman I don’t know pats me on the shoulder and smiles then moves on.

I turn and hurl myself out the front door, stepping over the rows of shoes. In the corner of the porch stands the pretty woman, smoking a cigarette. Before she can say anything I run down the front steps. I miss the bottom step and nearly fall on my face but catch myself at the last moment and go staggering across the lawn and I think I’m going to make it when bam, I trip over something and end up face down in the damp grass. I lie there a few moments, breathing in the rotting leaves and wet earth, the musty smell of decay.

“Holy crap, you okay?” the woman says, jumping down the steps to help me to my feet. I brush the mud from my knees. She points down at the thing I tripped over and starts to laugh. I laugh too. It's the campaign sign stuck into the front yard.

From the living room explodes that song "Celebration" by Kool and the Gang. "What the hell?" my companion says, and runs back inside. I follow. Everyone is dancing and shimmying to the music. The guy in the wheelchair is spinning around with his kids on his lap.Michele grabs my hand and tries to pull me onto the dance floor. I gently pull my hand away.

"What's going on?" I ask.

"We're celebrating our future landslide!" she cries, shaking her hips. "All we have to do is get through the next four years!" Cary swoops in and grabs her and she whoops and they both go whirling off across the room.

"I fucking hate this song," the girl says.

"God, me too," I say, and stick out my tongue and make a face and flap my arms in the air like I'm mentally challenged. She laughs and crosses her eyes and kicks like she's having a seizure. We twitch and gyrate and flail all eight of our limbs like a couple of complete idiots as the music blasts even louder. We shake and thrash and holler. And, as if some ravenous baby insect is wriggling deep within our guts, eating us alive from the inside, we dance.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Marsden Hartley

"Famous Tahiti woman,"
the Japanese man said
to his three children
as they stood before
the topless Gauguin.
He pointed to
the waterlilies
and asked the guard
"Is this a real and not
a duplicate?"
Assured of its
authenticity,
he had the kids pose
for a photograph
in front of it.
A minute later the eldest,
who wore a sweat shirt
with the word CHAOS
printed across
her tiny breasts
sneezed all over
a Marsden Hartley
painting of a lobster trap
nestled among the rocks
buffeted by wave
after crashing wave.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Leon Redbone


Remember when we went to see John Prine, you and I
and a couple of your fellow folk-singer friends
at the old State Theater in downtown Reading
Leon Redbone opened. I’d seen him once before
in college, though why he would deign to perform 
in front of a bunch of art students who knew him only from
his ALL detergent commercials will always be a mystery. 
It looked like he hadn’t changed a bit; same Panama hat, 
same sunglasses and mustache, same strum and mumble.
A weird caricature of a bygone era, singing songs
from the infant days of the previous century.
And he whistled, a pinstriped peculiar bird,
strangely affecting despite his aloofness
And then Prine came onstage, performing with more gusto
than a man his age should be able to muster,
but what I really remember from that night
is that lonely, haunted whistling. I hear it now, 
summoning the hungry animal that gnawed a path through your bones 
burrowing up your spine until it finally found your brain.
I’m glad I saw you that last time, tired but still able to laugh
in your living room with your floppy hat
covering your skull, though I never did get to hear you 
play your guitar, never heard you sing I Ain't Got Nobody,
Shine on Harvest Moon, Whistling in the Wind.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Crowbar

Plunged your hand into the icy water
Curled your fingers round the clawed iron rod
Raised it over your head and shook it
Releasing a shower of winking crystal droplets
The sun did its best, but the wet length
did not shine, its black surface
sucking in the light.
Even with all the beauty shimmering  around you,
lush green vines and leaves and the bubbling stream,
even with the sky so flawlessly blue,
the dancing motes and midges,
rainbow hued river stones, sprays of wildflowers
even with the forest singing and whispering her secrets,
even with the world so still and calm and nature
such a soothing balm, even with all that love
and the iron weight in your hand
even with all this, you did not smile

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Sparrow

She was all sticks and twigs,
slapping, scratching,
bony knees, big glasses
crushed beneath the leaves
shoulder blades sharp clouds
of breath, cutting
sun, branches black, teeth
tight, eyes
unable to shut
Birds huddled silent
feathers the color of the wood
watching her flutter
and wrestle herself
to the earth

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

White Cotton


I dreamed of you for the first time
 just before I woke up this morning
I was wearing your bra on your head
it was white
Don't tell my therapist but
my mother was there, too,
watching from inside the house
with, I feared, disapproval
as I finally gave in
and grabbed and kissed you,
slipping your white cotton panties off
from under your dress
and tucking them into my pocket
just before I woke up.

When I got to work later that morning
alarms were going off
and there were leaks everywhere from
the late night downpour
that had occurred while I slept.
It was a frantic, chaotic morning,
spent running around
and cursing, but when I finally had a chance
to sit down, I took a long drink of coffee
and reached into my pocket
and smiled

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Burning Web

Sometimes sparks erupt from the overhead wires.
Sometimes it rains baby spiders. Sometimes you feel like
you'll die if you're touched, or if you're not touched.
Sometimes you stretch your arms to embrace the world
and they are instantly covered with all those baby spiders.

Sometimes the clouds cloak the meteor shower.
Sometimes the sparks seem more frightening
than magical. Sometimes I hide for days
in my apartment, listening. Sometimes all it takes
is one badly wired hot tub to burn down an entire forest.

Sometimes the train leaps the tracks
Sometimes the underground fires
smolder for years
Sometimes the eggs hatch
and the atmosphere crawls
Sometimes a strand of spider silk acts
as a fuse

Sometimes it feels like your skin is slipping off,
sometimes it feels like your eyeballs are being
pinched. Sometimes you swallow torch
after torch after torch. Sometimes we throw
match after match after match at the river
but it stubbornly refuses to catch fire.